Holding local government accountable for implementing court orders: the Mchunu case

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (SERI) has been involved in a number of significant public interest cases that have sought to ensure that enforcement mechanisms are strengthened to ensure that court orders are executed swiftly and appropriately. In this regard Mchunu v Executive mayor, Ethekwini Municipality (Mchunu) sets important precedent. In this case SERI represents 37 poor families living in a transit camp in KwaMashu, Durban. These households were evicted from the Siyanda informal settlement to allow for the construction of a road. The eviction was allowed on condition that the families be provided with permanent housing within a year of the court order. The deadline passed without the order being complied with. 

The Durban High Court declared that the relevant municipal office bearers (specifically the Executive Mayor, City Manager and Director of Housing) were “constitutionally and statutorily obliged to take all necessary steps” to make sure that the families are provided with permanent housing within three months from the court order. 

The court provided that if this was not done the municipal officers could be held in contempt of court and may be fined or imprisoned. This judgment significantly strengthens enforcement mechanisms which could ensure that court orders are implemented.